Thursday 13 March 2014

The Unintentional Arrival of Hockey's Most Recognizable Uniform

Preamble: You may notice that the sweater illustrations in this post are approximately 1000% percent better than the ones I've had in the past. That's because these illustrations were done by fellow SIHR member Danny Laflamme, who is developing a virtual sweater museum for the SIHR website, and who I'm sure you'll agree does one hell of a job. Danny has kindly allowed me to use his illustrations on my blog. Thanks Danny!

Hockey's Most Recognizable Uniform

It's no secret that although the Montreal Canadiens have had essentially the same sweater design for many decades, in the club's early years they wore very different uniforms. In recent seasons, the Habs have trotted out several throwback jerseys to celebrate their history. In the team's first season of 1909/10, the sported a sweater like the one below. A modern throwback jersey based on this design was worn in one game by Montreal in the 2009/10 season.

In 1910/11, the Canadiens used an entirely new sweater design, illustrated below. Again, the modern club wore a version of this design 100 years after its original use. This is the first appearance of the bright scarlet red that is now so intimately associated with the club. And look, Toronto fans: the Habs had a maple leaf emblem well before your club even existed!

This sweater also lasted only one season, and the team switched the one below in 1911/12. At the very least, the club retained the calligraphic 'C' emblem, instead of changing everything entirely once again. In fact, this sweater looks something like an 'away' version of the previous one.

Everything was changed entirely once again the following season. In their fourth season, the Habs were using their fourth new sweater. The version also had a modern jersey based on it, used in the 2012/13 season.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. Barber-pole stripes such as the ones used in this design were fairly common for hockey sweaters in the game's early years. In fact, it turns out they were too common...

The Unintentional Arrival

Partway through the 1912/13 season, Montreal ran into a problem. The Ottawa Senators complained about the new Canadiens sweaters, because they were too similar to the Senators' design, making it easy to confuse players from the two teams for each other on the ice. Ottawa wore sweaters like this:

You can understand how, in the heat of the action on the ice, a Senator might mistake a Canadien for a teammate, or vice-versa. So, Montreal had to adopt a new sweater that they would use when playing against Ottawa. The Senators had worn such sweaters for many years, and so it was up to the junior team to make a change. Montreal kept the red and the blue colours, and took the 'C' style from their very first sweater from 1909/10, and came up with this:

The development of this new design, arrived at only because another team took issue with their preferred sweater, into the form we now associate with the Habs is clear. In fact, it seems this new design was popular, because the very next season (1913/14), saw the adoption of a sweater design that is finally recognizable as the modern Montreal uniform. It was the team's sixth sweater design in five seasons, but this one stuck. Really stuck.

And so, the original design of the most recognizable hockey sweater of them all was not intentional. The team had no desire for a new sweater at the time the need for one was thrust upon them by another team. This is certainly one of the greatest happy accidents in the game's history.


  1. I wrote an entire article questioning what exactly the Canadiens wore in 1911-12 on my blog.

    There's an odd lack of any photos of the white jerseys supposedly worn that season. No hockey cards, no team photo, no action shots - just a lone studio portrait of a non-star player, which to me is not quite enough evidence yet to fully believe that the white jersey was worn by the entire team when you consider how well documented the 1909-10 blue jerseys, the 1910-11 maple leaf jerseys and the 1912-13 barber pole jerseys are.

    I find it really hard to accept there are so many photos of the team's stars from the era wearing the other three styles, yet not one picture of Jack Laviolette, Didier Pitre or Georges Vezina wearing the suggested white sweater of 1911-12.

    With so many photos of the red maple leaf sweaters and the barber pole sweaters, i'm currently inclined to believe they were worn in consecutive seasons with no white one worn in between, as indicated in this poster.

    For more in depth detail on my research, check out my story, which focuses on a different version of the white jersey as depicted on the Canadiens own history website.

    One other thing to mention, the illustrations above show the 1919-11 red sweaters with the green maple leaf having white and blue striping, while the throwbacks worn by the Canadiens during their centennial celebrations had white and green - not blue.

    1. Hi Jeff,
      I'm only going to discuss the 1910-11 sweater issue as I have all the info handy.

      When Le Club de Hockey Canadien release their version of the 100th, they couldn't have been more wrong!
      It's easy to tend that dark colours appear dark and light colours light grey on a pre-1930 picture. Well it's a very wrong interpretation.

      With all my sweater research I learned that reds, dark and regular greens (like kelly, irish) appear very dark on these old pictures, almost black. On the opposite blues (lighter than navy) mostly appeared grey-ish.
      Here are the best example:
      You see on these pictures, the blue is a grey shade.

      Now for green:,_Edmonton_Eskimos.jpg/215px-Duke_Keats,_Edmonton_Eskimos.jpg
      In many papers of the time they mentioned the Edmonton Eskimos were green and white.
      See how the colour is dark on the sweater....!

      Now can you tell me why Didier Pitre sweater on this pic would be green and red?
      You see clearly that the stripes on the cuffs, waist and collar being a light grey colour, while the green logo almost disappear on the red body...!!!!
      In addition to this, why colouring the 1911-12 cards in red white and blue except for the logo?
      This is the only other coloured reference: An old ad from Giant Tiger featuring H. Dallaire made in 1911 in his hometown of Rockland, Ontario. Apart from the missing maple leaf, the colours used are red, white and blue.

      I could add more proofs to this but I think I made my point. There is no evidence anywhere that green was used on a Habs sweater (apart from the crest).
      Most hockey historians agree as a fact that the 1910-11 sweater was indeed red body with white and blue trims sporting a stylized green maple leaf.

      Please apologize for my grammar, English being only a second language to me.

    2. Thanks for your reply and thoughts on the 1910-11 sweater. Old black and white photos can be especially tricky if the original photographer used a filter to increase the contrast between colors. A red filter can make red look much lighter and blue and green look very dark for example.

      I'd love to hear your thoughts on the 1911-12 white sweater and how many photos of it you managed to find to base your illustration on.

      The Canadiens own website shows a white sweater with a diagonal sash of blue and red stripes.


  2. My thoughts about the 11-12 sweater are pretty similar to yours. Although instead of denying it, I'm trying to accept it.
    I really liked your debate on your TSG blog about it and wouldn't argue much about your points.
    I pretty had the same images you have. Dallaire's pic is the most notable one.

    I understand your concern why no stars were photographed in that uniform but a sub-player like Dallaire was. Though it is no surprise that a non-winning team didn't get any (or almost no) photoshoot at the time. Just think about the NHA Toronto Ontarios/Shamrocks as an example, I've never seen any pics of them.

    But what if, Dallaire took that picture for himself? Players weren't that rich at the time and photos were expensive but not too expensive even for a sub-player...
    What if the Team only had Dallaire around that day since he was a returning player for that season and decided to take the first team player picture and then abandoned the idea later, maybe due to lack of funds or any other reason?

    One thing is for sure, according to what I read, they did change sweater again in 1911-12, I remember reading it somewhere. Obviously as I'm writing this, I can't remember where I found my source and probably won't before I publish this answer.
    But I will get back with this at some point. (Maybe Iain can help me with this!?). And if I'm not mistaking, that text also mentioned a white body sweater with a red Gothic C as the new sweater. You will notice that my illustration has a cream-ish white body white the trims are true white. I did that according to Dallaire's picture. Body and trim white shades are slightly different.

    Now for the diagonal stripes, the only source are those newspaper drawings. I didn't want to rely more on this than an actual picture (Dallaire). Mostly because at the time papers illustrators didn't care that much about accuracy and loved to add their little touch. Just look on Marc Durand's blog about the Bulldogs (, there are a few of those paper illustrations on his page which differ from the actual Quebec sweater.

    Obviously that sweater still has its little mystery, but I think I came up with the closest interpretation with the little we have. I know at the opposite of my points and pictures about the 1910-11 sweater, these points about the 1911-12 sweater won't satisfy you and leave room for denial. I am not trying to prove you're wrong about denying it. I just explain why I came up with that illustration.

    Before I go, I just wanted to mention another colour I forgot in my last post, that can be misinterpreted in the pre-1930 pictures: Golden and Canari yellows... Just look at the late PCHA or the WCHL/WHL Victoria Cougars. The blue is once again a light shade of grey while the yellow is very dark... see this pic for example:!925%20Victoria%20Cougars.jpg
    versus this picture from the sweater at the HHOF:

    Anyhow keep up your good work at TSG. I will keep reading you!!!


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